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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs
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Parks and Lands Bills: HR 2689




STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE

 HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS,

OF THE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES,

CONCERNING H.R. 2689,

A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR

TO STUDY THE SUITABILITY AND FEASIBILITY OF

DESIGNATING THE NATIONAL D-DAY MEMORIAL IN BEDFORD, VIRGINIA,

AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM

October 1, 2009

Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 2689, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability and feasibility of designating the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, as a unit of the National Park System.

The Department recommends deferring action on H.R. 2689 to allow the National Park Service to complete a report on a preliminary assessment, requested by Secretary Salazar, as to whether the D-Day Memorial would be eligible for inclusion into the National Park System.This would also give the Secretary an opportunity to review the report and to share its contents with the members of the Virginia delegation.

H.R. 2689 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study to determine the feasibility and suitability of designating the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia as a unit of the National Park System.The study also would include cost estimates for any acquisition, development, operation, and maintenance of the area and identify alternatives for management, administration, and protection of the area.We estimate that this study would cost approximately $250,000.

The landing of Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 was a seminal event in World War II and in the American military chronicle.It marked the greatest amphibious landing in history, the beginning of the liberation of France, and led to the eventual defeat of Adolph Hitler's Germany. On that day, too, some 4,500 Allied servicemen were killed displaying their valor and fidelity while making the ultimate sacrifice. In the rural community of Bedford, Virginia, families learned that 19 of their 34 sons landing on the beaches did not survive the day.

The National D-Day Memorial is located on an 88-acre site in Bedford, Virginia. It rises from a hill overlooking the community and commemorates the sacrifices of all who lost their lives on June 6, 1944. It consists of a series of plazas and architectural and sculptural features commemorating the planning of Operation Overlord, the English Channel crossing, the landings, and the march into France and ultimate victory. The major feature at the center of the memorial is the 44.5 foot granite veneered Overlord Arch. A water feature depicting the landing approach is designed to emit spurts of water simulating the gun fire encountered by those approaching the beaches. Numerous bronze plaques devoted to involved military units and individuals, as well as memorial donors, are placed against walls. The names of those who died on June 6, 1944 are contained on a separate necrology wall. A small visitor contact station and book store is adjacent to the memorial.

The memorial was designated a National Memorial by Congress in Title X, Section 1080 of the National Defense Authorizations Act of 1997 (Public Law 104-201). It was largely constructed through private fund raising efforts of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation (Foundation) and was dedicated on June 6, 2001 by President George W. Bush. The Foundation continues to complete construction and manage the memorial, but has encountered severe financial difficulties in meeting its close to $2.4 million annual operational costs. The memorial is open for visitation 362 days a year and received approximately 80,000 visitors between July 2008 and June 2009. Approximately 19,000 of these visitors came during the month of June due to the observance of the 65th anniversary of D-Day. The Foundation records revenues of $509,653 and slightly over $1 million in contributions for this 12-month period.

On June 25, 2009, ten members of the Virginia congressional delegation, including this bill's sponsor and co-sponsors, wrote to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar requesting that he work with President Barak Obama to establish the D-Day Memorial as a National Monument pursuant to the authorities granted to the President by the Antiquities Act of 1906, and that management of the monument be undertaken by the National Park Service. Secretary Salazar responded to the request on August 6, 2009 indicating that he had asked a team of National Park Service representatives to conduct a site visit to the memorial to undertake a preliminary assessment as to whether it may be eligible for inclusion into the National Park System. The Secretary further indicated that he would share the team's report with the delegation once it was completed.

On August 25 and 26, a National Park Service team toured the site and met with Foundation staff, including its executive director. The team received a great deal of information regarding the design and construction of the memorial, current visitor services and interpretation, and maintenance and operational protocols and costs.The team is currently in the process of analyzing the documents provided and expects to complete its report to Secretary Salazar this fall.

In light of this current analysis, the Department believes it is premature to consider the authorization of a Special Resource Study. We respectfully request that the committee defer action on this bill until the Secretary has had an opportunity to review the National Park Service team report and to share its contents with the members of the Virginia delegation.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or members of the committee may have regarding the Department's position on this legislation.